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Fulbright Winner Links Comics to Cross-Cultural Communication


Jonathan Hogan (FCRH ’08) may be the source for how to turn a childhood fascination into an academic dream. The recent graduate is headed to Brazil to read horror comics.

Hogan received a Fulbright Fellowship to study how the popular medium expresses social catharsis in a culture living under a dictatorship. His fellowship focuses specifically on the years 1964 to 1985, when the people of Brazil were repressed under military rule.

Jonathan Hogan (FCRH ’08) Photo courtesy of Jonathan Hogan

In all, Fordham students and alumni received 11 Fulbright Fellowships for the 2008-09 academic year—a record number for the University and the second consecutive year that Fordham has attracted more of the highly competitive awards. The awardees will be traveling to four continents and represent three undergraduate schools and four graduate schools.

Hogan hopes that his project, “The Role of Comic Books in Brazilian Popular Culture,” supports his idea that graphic storytelling is also an effective means of cross-cultural communication.

“I’ve been a lifelong fan of comics since elementary school,” said Hogan, who will do the bulk of his research at Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro. “But I’d always considered it just a hobby. Seeing dissertations on them in my classes made me look at them in a different light.”

“Comics are cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural in the sense that the visual aspect can cross cultural bounds,” Hogan added. “You don’t have to use language to know the gist of what is happening. I look at the violent and terrifying acts that take place in horror comics as a means to act out under a dictatorship in a legal fashion.”

In fact, so taken was Hogan with the potential for comics to reflect issues in society that he wrote his senior thesis on the popular superhero Iron Man, interpreting the character’s use of technology as a means to achieve self-worth.

“At times, Iron Man had terrible self-esteem,” he noted.

“Superheroes are a modern myth, they’re the modern Odyssey,” Hogan said. “We see what a given society sees as heroic. By seeing the comic books of another country, I can better understand those of the United States.”

Studying is not the sole focus of Hogan’s project; he has volunteered to teach English to young students using comic books. “Teaching [through]visuals and graphics meshes with my interest. I also would love to teach college some day,” he said.

Janet Sternberg, Ph.D., assistant professor of communication and media studies, helped Hogan hone his proposal and cultivate his interest in Brazil. Sternberg, who grew up in Rio de Janeiro, did a Fulbright in Brazil as a doctoral student at Cornell University.

“Jonathan is on to a transformative experience,” Sternberg said. “It is his dream. He’s worked very hard and this opportunity is very much in the spirit of Fordham’s international-minded approach.”

“Fordham has long promoted close collaboration among its faculty and students. Professor Sternberg’s and Jonathan’s success is an example of those efforts bearing fruit,” said Regina Plunkett-Dowling, Ph.D., Fordham’s Fulbright program adviser.


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